Nov 202014

Alabama HockeyOn Tuesday, Arizona State surprised the college hockey world by announcing it was elevating its club hockey team to become the 60th program in NCAA Division I.

ASU will take over as D-I’s southernmost program from UAH by about a degree of latitude, although if you capitalize the S, UAH will hands down be the most Southern. There is a chance they may be joining us in the WCHA by 2017, although I would think the NCHC is more likely for the Sun Devils.

Naturally, not long after the press conference wrapped up in Tempe, speculation abounded on which will be the #nexthockeyschool in Division I. It includes the usual suspects: Navy, Rhode Island, Buffalo, Illinois.

Also, Alabama.

The Frozen Tide club team has been in existence since the 2005-06 season. The Tide is coached by former Charger Mike Quenneville, who played for UAH from 1987-89 during its first foray in Division I. Alabama plays in ACHA Division III and is a member of the South Eastern Collegiate Hockey Conference (SECHC), which is comprised of club teams from eight Southeastern Conference schools. The Tide won the 2012 SECHC championship at the Huntsville Ice Complex, and was runner up to Arkansas in 2013 and 2014. Alabama is 12-1 so far this season.

The Tide has seen growing support, with good crowds at their home in the Pelham Civic Complex (especially during the Iron Cup matchups with Auburn).

So what would happen if Alabama decides to make the jump to NCAA Division I?

Let’s be clear that there is no known discussion — or even rumor — of Alabama making that jump. For UA to even consider it, they would need to figure out answers to the three issues that come up for every prospective school that wants to join college hockey’s big time:

  • Money. Penn State got a $102 million donation from Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula to start up their team, their women’s hockey team, and build an on-campus arena. Arizona State raised $32 million in private donations. Where would the start-up funds come from? Is the school willing to budget $1-$1.5 million per year to support the program?
  • Place to play: The Tide could conceivably continue to play in Pelham, which is over 50 miles from the Tuscaloosa campus, as a start, but  I suspect they would need a true Division I facility in Tuscaloosa. Would they build an on-campus rink? Renovate Coleman Coliseum and add an ice sheet? Who would pay for that?
  • Appease Title IX: Penn State added women’s hockey to go along with the men’s team. Arizona State may add women’s hockey, or two other women’s athletic programs to stay in compliance. What would Alabama need to add, and how much would that cost?

One of the reasons this thought experiment is even possible is UAH. If the UAH hockey program had folded, it is hard to fathom Alabama adding an expensive sport like hockey when the closest Division I opponent is in Ohio (Miami, 550 miles). 150 miles to Huntsville? That’s much easier. Even with Huntsville, the Tide would have the same issue UAH has to deal with — lots of travel.

Could Alabama spur other SEC schools to add hockey, as some suggest may happen in the Pac-12 with Arizona State? That would involve similar investments at a number of schools, and you simply can’t count on that.

But suppose everything somehow aligns and Alabama announces that the Frozen Tide is joining NCAA Division I. What would this mean for UAH?

Obviously, as alluded to before, it means an in-state rival for the Chargers. Whether they’re in the same conference or not, it’s hard to imagine that the Chargers and the Tide would not meet four times a year because of the proximity alone. And it’s hard to imagine that it would not be a true rivalry, with loud, boisterous crowds for both. (I would think we’d get the Auburn faithful who despise everything crimson.) That would be fun.

Many UAH fans may resent the Tide because they represent the UA system, where a certain former chancellor did the Charger hockey program no favors. Now the Tide would get in on our turf? Heck no.

Then there would be the recruiting battles. Which school would capitalize more on the South’s growing hockey talent? While UAH head coach Mike Corbett maintains that we will still recruit everywhere, there’s no denying that keeping the best players from the South in the region would be a boon. Now add a team in Tuscaloosa, looking to take some of that talent. I’m not sure I can get behind that.

In the end, however, I can’t imagine Alabama hockey going varsity. Even for a big money school like Alabama, so much investment would be required just to start it up, and there’s no guarantee the return would be worth it.

UAH was able to make a niche for itself 30 years ago, turning a popular and successful club team into a Division II power and then back to Division I. We had the support and the facility to do it, but college hockey has changed so much since those days. We’ve been fortunate, and despite all we’ve been through, we’re still fortunate that we are able to build a Division I program today.

All I can say to those who think Alabama should be the next hockey school is: You can dream, and you can wish, but it’s harder than it looks. Much harder.

Mar 172014

Despite the record, this 2013-14 season was good in terms of exposure. Promotions, sponsorships, and marketing have helped us get the highest average attendance in five seasons. But this first season in the WCHA was also a learning experience on and off the ice.

However, I have some suggestions.

I’m not going to talk about things I’d like to see in terms of players and coaching — I’m certainly not qualified beyond the obvious. We need to score more goals. ANALYSIS!

Instead, I want to focus on what I’d like to see in the coming years, things that will make UAH hockey look better. And looking better can help us become better. Consider this friendly advice from a longtime fan, supporter, and alum.

Home jerseys with more blue

Craig Pierce

To paraphrase a 1980s Wendy’s commercial, “Where’s the blue?!” (Photo by Jazzmine Jordan)

I recently had lunch with a close friend of mine, and the topic turned to UAH hockey. She’s not what you’d call a sports fanatic, but she was at a game in January when they were handing out blue-and-white pom-poms. During the game, she found it very odd that she was waving a blue pom-pom when it seemed the only blue was being worn by the other team (Lake Superior State).

I don’t want to be too down on whoever designed the home jerseys this season, because I’m sure they are proud of their creation. However, the first line of our fight song is “We are the Chargers who wear blue and white,” but you wouldn’t know by looking at them. The problem: Too much black. I don’t mind a little black for the accent (over our history we’ve had silver, light blue, and red as accent colors), but the primary color of The University of Alabama in Huntsville is royal blue, and that color was marginalized in our own building.

These jerseys have pride in their blue and white. (Photo by Gemini Athletic Wear)

These jerseys have pride in their blue and white. (Photo by Gemini Athletic Wear)

In contrast, our road jerseys were beautiful. They are a bright royal blue, both bold and traditional. It seemed every where the Chargers went, the opposing team’s beat writers or announcers heaped praise on the road blues. When The Hockey News showcased UAH in January, the photo was of the road blue, not the home white. Uni Watch mentioned the road jersey when I submitted it for their hockey news ticker, but I did not see a repeat for the home. Maybe they were as underwhelmed as I was.

So why not tweak the home jerseys to match better with what the boys wear on the road? Here’s what I suggest:

uah_home_jersey_design_MNThese aren’t as different from this year’s home jerseys as you might think. There are only three changes:

1. The “UAH” is block to match the “Alabama Huntsville” font on the road jerseys. (It could also say “Alabama Huntsville” or “Chargers.” I kind of like “UAH” at home and “Alabama Huntsville” on the road, mostly because folks in Huntsville say “UAH,” while people outside of Huntsville call us “Alabama Huntsville.”)

2. The horse logo is replaced with the jersey number, just like the road jerseys.

3. Except for the shoulder horseshoe, the blue and the black are inverted, so that blue is the main color and black is the accent.

I think these would look so much better. Heck, even if only No. 3 happened to the current design, I think it would be an improvement.

Geof thinks using the official school logo on the front would be a cool idea:

uah_home_jersey_design_newlogo_MNI think I prefer the block lettering, but I am not opposed to this (it is slick). Either way, as the final line of our fight song says, let’s “have pride in your BLUE and white!”

More banners from the rafters, er, wall

I study UAH hockey history. For I’ve done look-backs on the 1983 and 1998 national championships, and retrospectives on our histories with Bemidji State and the Alaska teams. I researched and expanded the record book when I worked in the sports information office back in the ’90s and on the side have been helping the sports information department expand the record book even more (it’s like 1995 all over again).

Quite simply, our history is under-represented at the VBC.

UAH's current banners at Propst Arena.

UAH’s current banners at Propst Arena.

Currently, the UAH corner of Propst Arena has three banners: The 1996 and 1998 NCAA Division II championships, and 25-year head coach Doug Ross. But we tend to say UAH five national championships when you count the three club championships of the 1980s. Those were important, because without them we don’t have the three banners we have now.

Then there are the accomplishments we’ve had since 1998, during our modern Division I era. We’ve won two College Hockey America regular season titles (2001 and 2003), plus two CHA tournament titles (2007 and 2010) and the NCAA tournament berths that came with them. They have banners at Spragins Hall, but not at the VBC.

So let’s fix this, and honor the teams that have done great things for UAH hockey and remind everyone what this program is capable of. (And show recruits, too!)

I propose we spruce up the UAH corner of the arena:


A mockup of a proposed UAH wall of hockey honors. More championships means more banners. Those section markers are in the way — why are they so high? (Michael Napier)

On the left, there’s a WCHA banner with all the team logos. It seems every team in the league has something like this except us. It doesn’t have to be one big banner like I have in the photo, but it would be nice to have something. There was a time while we were in the CHA where there were placards with each team’s logo underneath one of the scoreboards — maybe that would be easier.

As for the Charger banners, this mockup goes for smaller banners than the ones we currently have so we can fit more. (Each Propst Arena tenant has its own corner to hang things, so we can’t decorate the whole place.) We have one for each national championship, conference regular season championship, and tournament championship (plus the Doug Ross banner).

If cost is an issue, we could combine the 2001 and 2003 banners, as well as the 2007 and 2010 banners. They don’t have to be pointed at the bottom, and they don’t need colored borders — these were just to make the mockups as cool as possible. Whatever works to expand our presence in the arena. We could auction off the original banners. And I’m willing to chip in on this in addition to my regular Blue Line Club dues. (I’m not kidding.)

I hope the powers that be can read this and take my advice under consideration. Even if my suggestions are completely ignored, I can’t wait for October. I’m looking forward to watching this program rise.

But seriously, MORE BLUE, LESS BLACK.

Michael Napier ’97

Mar 142014

As you might expect, this kicked off a torrent of tweets, some from me.  You really should go on Twitter and read the whole conversation.

Let’s consider a few things.

UAH had a historically bad season.  We all know that.  But four games against UAH was not a guarantee of eight points.  Two teams, Mankato and Northern, got the full eight points.  UAH picked a point off of Anchorage and two off of Bowling Green and Bemidji.  [Hold on, I’m laughing at the Bemidji thing.  Still laughing.  Moving on.  Ahem.]  So 60% of the time, you didn’t get the full eight points.  Now, there is the fact that UAH didn’t have a season split with anyone, and that you’re functionally substituting an average WCHA weekend (split) in that 60% of the time.  But the fact still remains that eight points was not automatic.  Points off of Anchorage and Bemidji kept them from cruising easily into the postseason.

Just as you can point to UAH as a likely win, you can point to games in Mankato and Ferris as a likely loss.  Bowling Green took a point off of Ferris in Big Rapids, but Anchorage could not.  Michigan Tech took a point off of the Mavericks in Mankato, but Ferris State could not.  Remember how everyone was shocked at that sweep?  Ferris was flying at that point and looked like they’d run away with the MacNaughton Cup (instead of getting it on the final night because there was the Mexican Pulled Goaltender Standoff in the Verizon Wireless Center).  In all four of these cases, these teams are in the top half of the league.  Clearly you can’t say that not getting the return date hurt them, even though they got dinged on the road.

There’s also this nugget from USCHO’s Matt Wellens:

And it gets worse for the Wildcats: the other teams they played four times were #1 Ferris, #2 Mankato, #3 Alaska, and #5 Michigan Tech.  Comparably, Lake State played #1 Ferris, #4 BG, #5 Tech, #6 Anchorage, and #8 Bemidji four times versus #2 Mankato, #3 Alaska, #7 Northern, and #10 UAH just twice.  The Bulldogs swept the Lakers for the season.  Just as comfortably as you could argue that playing UAH twice — and again, 60% of the time, you’re not getting eight points — you can argue that playing Ferris four times was to your detriment.  (You can’t just willy-nilly swap UAH in for Ferris in that last weekend: swapping UAH in means that the Chargers have to play one of their four-times teams in for Lake, and that whole process echoes throughout the conference, likely resulting in all sorts of standings changes.)

When it comes down to the two UP schools struggling to stay in the playoffs, Northern got the job done — with a harder schedule — and Lake State did not.  And then when it comes down to the fight for 8th place, Bemidji didn’t get eight points off of UAH, and the tiebreaker was head-to-head record, which the Beavers won decisively, 3-1-0.

Are we going to see seasons like this again in the future?  We probably won’t from UAH or anyone else being that historically bad, but we could see another season of a team being impossible to beat at home that you can’t take points off of in your own building.  Will that make the standings unbalanced?  Perhaps.  You could get so lucky as to have #2 and #3 in your building, #4-8 for home-and-homes, and #9 and #10 in their barn, where presumably they can be beaten (especially by you, the league’s best team!).  That’s a combination that’s at least as rare as having #10 be this historically bad.  Had Lake State had that sort of schedule, they’d have a case.  That’s not what happened — not even close.

Look, until the NCAA raises the games cap to 42-44 (before Alaska exemptions), 10-team conferences are going to play unbalanced conference schedules.  Were Mankato, Alaska, BG, Lake Superior, and UAH salivating at playing Anchorage four times this year?  They were ranked #9 by both the coaches and media coming into the season, and yet they were in on home ice until this time a week ago.  Moreover, were Mankato and BG really salivating at the chance to play those teams a combined eight times each?  Probably so, but Anchorage proved to be way tougher than anyone expected.

Chris Dilks seems to think that there will be some kind of change in the WCHA.  I can’t see where that change would come from, and frankly, I don’t know that it should be changed.  There won’t be a #10 outlier again like this season.  There probably won’t be any season with one team that wins 24+ games, either.  Without those kinds of statistical outliers, an unbalanced schedule has even less discernible effect than it had this season, and even then, it really didn’t matter.

Dec 102013

In a piece about BG being embarrassed and in disarray, Ryan Satkowiak wrote the following:

And where was that fire Saturday? Did BG just assume it would run over Huntsville? Has it learned that its still is not a team that can look at anyone as an “easy win”? Huntsville entered Saturday’s game with 13 goals in 15 games. That’s .86 per game. BG proceeded to allow more than FOUR TIMES their season total. Huntsville increased their season goal totals by 30 percent. With one game.

I mean, seriously. The last time Huntsville beat a Division-I team, I was still a college student. And not in that farewell, applying for jobs not really paying attention to school phase. It was last November, specifically Nov. 16 against Lake Superior. In the time since, Huntsville had lost 26-straight D-I games.

But if you’ve read anything I’ve written the last two months, you’d know how bad they are. I’ve been sure to let you know. In fairness to them, I exaggerate for effect. They’re like BG in 2009-10. Most nights they’ll lose handily, but every third game or so they’ll put out a good effort and give the opposing team a scare. This season they’ve had one-goal losses to Bemidji, Ferris, St. Cloud and Western Michigan.

To quote Bill Parcells, you are what your record says you are.  At 1-15-0, I think that it’s fair to say that we’re just not that good of a hockey team this season.  Stakowiak’s second paragraph makes that case pretty clearly.  Some people were wondering if we’d go winless.  Everyone on the message boards always said that that first win would happen, but it was clear that no one wanted to be the first.

BG was the first team to lose to us in 2013-14.  You are what your record says you are.

What I’m really mad about, though, is this one sentence, which I’ll quote again for effect:

Most nights they’ll lose handily, but every third game or so they’ll put out a good effort and give the opposing team a scare.

I went round and around with Satkowiak about this on Twitter.  Here are two important pieces in that discussion — but please, click on that linked sentence to see the whole thing for yourself.

I believe that the following people have a right to question our heart: our coaches and our players.  They’re the people that really know what’s going on.  If you want to say that we’re not very good, that’s factual.  If you want to say what Inside College Hockey’s Mike Eidelbes said:

I saw UAH play Notre Dame a couple weeks ago. You guys know the talent’s not there. That’s a byproduct of being in college hockey limbo for two years. But the effort and attention to detail are there even on nights they know they’re going to be outmanned. To me, it seems like everyone has bought in to what Mike Corbett’s selling. It might be 2-3 years before the program turns the corner, but it appears that day will come.

… then you’re welcome to say that, too.  There’s a big, big difference between what Satkowiak stated and what Eidelbes stated.  The following are paraphrases of the arguments.

Satkowiak: “UAH is not good, and some nights, they don’t put forth the effort to win.  Some nights, they do, and you can see what that’s gotten them.  BG is not a program that can afford to ‘assume it would run over Huntsville’.”  While Satkowiak states that it’s poor wording (see above tweet), he then said:

Eidelbes: “UAH is not good, but they work hard and have great attention to detail.”  Since Eidelbes said nothing about whether BG should or should not have lost to UAH, it has to stop there.

I am never going to question our players’ heart and effort.  I will let the coaches do that.  I will let the players police that on their own.  I’m not going to do it myself, and like hell I will sit by and watch someone else do it.

But guess what, Ryan, you did say it.  Your words are there.  You even admitted that you used poor wording, so I’m not sure why you’re back-pedaling from that if you really meant it.

See y’all Friday.  I’m sure that the effort will be there to match those who doubt it.

Jul 012013

Dr. Altenkirch —

You saved this program from extinction.  You clearly made the last coaching decision in bringing in Kurt Kleinendorst.  It’s clear that you’ll play a large part in deciding who be the next coach behind the Chargers’ bench.  That’s why we’re appealing to you.

headshot_2_west1024x1280Please hire Lance West, UAH ’95.  You may not know much about him, but that’s why we’re here.

Lance had success here as a player.  As a right wing, Lance amassed 43 goals and 65 assists for 108 points in 106 games (1.02 ppg) as a Charger, which finds him at 20th on our all-time scorers list. He was on the top line for UAH in the 1994 NCAA Division II championship series.

Lance had success here as an assistant coach.  He was a volunteer assistant from 1995-98, which means that he was around for both of our Division II national championships.  He was a full-time assistant from 2000-07, a period of time during which the Chargers went 118-103-22, winning two College Hockey America regular-season titles and our first NCAA Division I tournament appearance.  He recruited most of those players, and when he wasn’t recruiting, he was doing the hard work of running practices, fundraising, scheduling non-conference games, managing travel, handling administrative duties, and more.  We would often see Lance sharpening skates outside of visiting locker rooms, too, when we were on the road.

Lance has deep roots in Western Canadian hockey.  He’s from Penticton, British Columbia, and he has consistently recruited top Chargers (and later Nanooks) from there.  As a Western team, we will do very well to increase our recruiting out west, because our student-athletes will be seeing their old friends and rivals wearing other WCHA sweaters, and our guys will want to play as close to their parents as possible.  That’s hard here in Huntsville, but we’ve seen so many BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan kids become Alabama men that it’s not even funny.  And as you know, many of those young men set down roots here and have a continued impact on our community.

Lance has had success at Alaska.  After Doug Ross retired in 2007, Lance went to coach at one of our now-conference-mates in Fairbanks.  The Nanooks have gone 89-102-28 with Westy behind the bench, with a first season of 9-21-5 under one-year coach Doc DelCastillo dragging that record down — and in that season, he was only a volunteer and obviously didn’t have any impact on recruiting with a class in place by the time he got there.  He again brought in fine classes of young men that resulted in an NCAA berth for Alaska in 2009-10.  That’s a quick turnaround for a program, and that’s the kind of turnaround that we need at UAH as we restore this program’s winning tradition.

We agree that talking to everyone who’s interested in our opening is worthwhile, especially the “name” guys.  It was great for us to bring in George Gwozdecky, even though he declared it a bad fit within 48 hours.  It will be great for us to talk with whoever else is interested.  Among many names, we see Mike Corbett of Air Force coming up the most.  Corbett certainly has a great record in Colorado Springs, and we’ve seen Derek Schooley do well at Robert Morris after time spent coaching under Frank Serratore’s tutelage.

But Dr. Altenkirch, Doug Ross retired in 2007 after 25 years behind our bench.  Since then, we’ve had three coaches: Danton Cole for three years, Chris Luongo for two, and Kleinendorst for one.  Our next coach will be our fourth in seven years.  Our rising seniors will be playing for their third coach after having been recruited for another one.  This revolving door has to stop.  When we talk to players and alumni, that’s the theme that keeps coming up.

Lance is a UAH Charger.  If UAH hires Lance, he will be here until he retires or the University decides that it’s time for a change.  We’ve talked to him about this, and he very much wants to be the head coach here, but we didn’t need to have a phone call to know that.  He was a finalist to replace Ross back then.  I’m sure that the University wanted a new voice at the point that they hired Coach Cole; we got one, and it’s easy to argue that it was a good one.  But it’s just as easy to argue that we need a familiar one right now, and we certainly believe in that.

Lance will move the needle with fundraising.  You know that we’re really ramping up the fund-raising efforts — to do this right, to do right by the efforts you made to continue the program, it’s imperative.  Because Lance is a Charger, and because people know that he’ll be here for the long haul, they’re going to feel good about giving.  Our boosters have to be a little leery of giving right now, not knowing who will be running the program.  Bringing in someone with a UAH pedigree will help, as many of our boosters knew Lance as a player and even more know him from his coaching tenure here.  Hiring Lance stops that revolving door, and that will give donors the confidence they need to invest in the program.

We believe in Lance West, and we think that you should hire him.

Mike Anderson (’05)

Jamie Gilliam (UAH SID 2001-11)

Bud McLaughlin (’82)

Geof Morris (’02)

Michael Napier (’97)

Update: We have heard back from Dr. Altenkirch.  I’ll quote a snippet:

We received a large amount of interest from very qualified individuals, Lance being one of them.  Anyone we have talked to we have indicated that longevity, providing stability, is important, and they would need to make a commitment to that.

We have gotten a lot of good input, from alumni, supporters, the Search Advisory Committee, etc.  Whoever is selected in the end will be stepping into a good situation, and, with some success, will be at UAH for sometime.